Premier League plans to resume season at the start of May
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The Premier League are working on an ambitious plan to restart the season behind closed doors on the first weekend of May with a scheduled finish date of Sunday, July 12.
The proposals, which will be discussed in detail on a conference call of the 20 clubs on Friday, would need to be endorsed by the government, public health bodies and the PFA. But they are seen as the best way to mitigate the financial losses and potential legal threats caused by the coronavirus shutdown.
The Premier League’s best-case scenario of a May resumption stems largely from their obligations to and financial reliance on broadcasters, who have a watertight £3 billion-a-year deal which expires on July 31, with next season’s deal starting the following day. It is understood that under the terms of the TV contracts the cut-off point to finish this season is July 16, and if the campaign is not completed by that date, Sky Sports, BT Sport and the international rights-holders could demand rebates totalling as much as £762 million.
The broadcasters are pushing the Premier League to provide clarity as soon as possible, as they are losing subscribers at a rapid rate and want to know when they can expect their schedules to return to normal.
During informal talks between club executives over the last few days, July 12 has emerged as the optimum finish date, and a restart at the beginning of May would build in the potential for more down-time if individual clubs are hit by more cases of the virus. It remains unclear whether such a timetable is realistic, however, given that the deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries warned on Sunday that the country could remain in varying degrees of lockdown for up to six months.
A restart in May is seen as vital as that is when the clubs are due to receive their final tranche of television money for the season, without which many will struggle to pay the players’ wages. The £762m of combined income under threat is not divided equally and would range from £57m for the Premier League winners to £20m for the team who finish bottom.
Ironically, the bigger clubs stand to lose more than usual this season if those payments are withheld following last year’s changes to the distribution of the overseas television deal, which, unlike the domestic deal, is no longer divided equally but determined by league position.
The Premier League are aware of the challenges they face in completing the season but until they are told otherwise by the government that remains their intention. Having suspended the season twice until April 4 and then April 30 they do not want to announce a further delay.
The clubs are also conscious that there may have to be changes in order to finish the season. One of the main topics of conversation between executives recently has been about waiving the rules regarding weakened teams. A number of solutions have been mentioned, including increasing squad sizes from 25 to 29 to enable them to cope with more absences due to illness. One club also raised the question of whether they would be permitted to field a youth team.
A more radical idea has been completing the season without promotion and relegation on the grounds that the integrity of the competition is threatened, and there is also no guarantee that the EFL campaign will be completed. Clubs at the top of the Championship have begun making preparations to take legal action if they are denied promotion, although if the competition is not completed that would weaken their case.
The Premier League will continue to liaise with the government, who have indicated they are eager for football to resume in some form as soon as it is not considered a public risk and a drain on resources. If given the go-ahead, matches would be staged with a skeleton broadcasting crew, minimal security and no media, although an ambulance presence would be required at the stadium.
One of the problems the league will face is convincing players to return to action after it emerged they are not insured for coronavirus as it is not listed as a critical illness. A number have sought clarification but are being advised they are not covered.
Many players forgo critical illness cover because it can cost £5 000 per year. But Sportsmail knows of a number who have improved their policies since the outbreak.